• A Film of Battle and Balance

2/23/2009

The Battle of Algiers is Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo’s black-and-white film depicting the Algerian struggle for independence from French colonial rule during the tumultuous years of 1954-1962. Set in the Casbah of the capital city of Algiers in 1954, it follows one fighter, Ali La Pointe of the National Liberation Front (FLN), who turns from being a criminal to becoming one of the top leaders of the FLN.

Monika Raesch, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at Suffolk University, introduced the film to an audience of students and community members at a screening on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in Donahue 311 at 41 Temple Street in Boston as the third event in the Civic Discourse Series: Media and Democracy.

Originally opening in 1967 in Italy and Algeria, the film met with controversy in France, where it was banned for five years. It won numerous awards, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and has been commended for its unbiased portrayal of the violent conflict.

“I really like the notion that there’s no clear protagonist, no clear antagonist,” said Raesch. “In Saving Private Ryan and all these Hollywood films, [like] Pearl Harbor, there’s always a clear hero and a clear bad guy, and this film does not provide us with that. I think in that sense it becomes much more realistic; there’s different viewpoints and each of them have something right about them. You cannot clearly label people right or wrong. I don’t think we get to see that much.”

Raesch selected the film for the screening to illustrate the Civic Discourse theme of media and democracy. “I feel this drives it home, whether there is democracy in media coverage, or in fighting for independence.” It was also timely, she said, having just been re-released in theatres a few years ago but in a limited way, showing at a maximum of nine theatres at a time. The Pentagon screened the film in 2003 comparing the Iraq War to the Algerian War of Independence and illustrating insurgency and counter-insurgency tactics that were used to win a battle, but ultimately not the war.

“I hope the audience takes away from the film the complexity of what’s going on, and that we never know what’s really happening in a country just by the news coverage we are getting,” said Raesch. “Al Jazeera gives you a completely different idea than the BBC, or than Channel 7. Depending on where you sit determines which TV station and which news outlet you get.  With the Internet we can actually go to all the various Web sites in different countries, but who does that?”

Monika Raesch teaches both video production and film studies, as well as a course in World Cinema. She is a native of Germany and holds degrees from four different countries.

The Civic Discourse Series, a new partnership between the Boston Athenaeum and the College of Arts and Sciences at Suffolk University, is an annual series of programs devoted to a topic of national significance and explored through free public lectures, panel discussions and film screenings.

In addition to examining the Civic Discourse topic through film screenings this spring, the Communications and Journalism Department also offers the Suffolk Cinema Series, screening films twice a semester with the actual filmmakers hosting and present for Q&A afterward, including such legendary filmmakers as Errol Morris.

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